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Excerpted from Best Evidence by Michael Schmicker. Copyright © 2000 by Michael Schmicker. Excerpted by permission of Michael Schmicker.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright © by SpiritSite.com.

"The evidence for the physical effects of mental intervention are extensive."

  Michael Schmicker
Best Evidence
, Part 1

Edward Jenner (1749-1823) is famous for the discovery of a vaccine against smallpox, a discovery that laid the foundations of modern immunology as a science. What is not so famous or well known is the response of the Royal Society, England's scientific establishment, to Jenner's medical discovery. They dismissed his evidence without examination and his idea with the following rebuke: "He ought not to risk his reputation by presenting to the learned body anything which appears so much at variance with established knowledge, and withal so incredible."

The history of medicine is filled with such embarrassing moments. As it turned out, the only thing incredible was the failure of the best medical minds of the day to take an unbiased look at a controversial new medical treatment. Fortunately, good ideas have a way of surviving censure (Jenner's did). Medical knowledge continues to advance under the prodding of heretics and visionaries, walking a precarious tightrope between life-threatening quackery and equally life-threatening scientific hubris.

Though mind-body medicine studies are slowly changing attitudes, mental healing or faith healing largely remains a suspect idea today to a medical establishment that still operates on a philosophy of mechanistic materialism. According to this belief, a human being is a wondrously complex collection of atoms, cells and chemicals -- but nothing more. Bodily illnesses have physical causes (germs, viruses, accidents, injuries, bad genes, bad diet, etc.) and require physical cures (drugs and surgery being the Big Two of modern medicine). You can't pray away a cancerous lump in your breast; you canít change your immune system with a thought. The odd, spontaneous cure that occurs without physical intervention is simply the impersonal laws of chance at work. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.

Reflecting this world view, modem medicine has downplayed the importance of mental thoughts, belief, emotions, wishes, intentions and attitudes in shaping physical health. But this is a rather recent attitude.

As medical researcher Larry Dossey, M.D. notes, historically physicians commonly believed the opposite of what physicians believe today. For example, up to the 20th century, both doctors and the patients they treated accepted that the mind could help determine the course of cancer. In the early 1600s, the French philosopher Rene Descartes developed a philosophy that viewed the mind and the body as totally separate from each other, and Western science and medicine embraced it. The mind could not exercise any significant direct control over the body and the diseases and illnesses it suffered, thus mental healing of physical illnesses and diseases was not possible. Eventually, scientific attention focused almost exclusively on matter, to the point where, for medicine, mind barely counted, and soul didn't exist.

Yet the evidence for the physical effects of mental intervention are extensive. Take the humble placebo effect, for example. A "placebo effect" has been defined as the psychological or physiological outcome of a pill, injection, or surgical procedure with no known intrinsic effects.

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